Given the recent interest on BPL in the Lost Creek Wilderness, part of Colorado's Pike National Forest, I thought I would report on a 35+ mile (officially speaking), 5500 +- elevation gain, loop from Goose Creek Trailhead I enjoyed earlier this week. The TH, at about 8200', is in the southeast portion of the Wilderness (Kenosha and Tarryall ranges), and roughly the northwestern edge of the infamous Hayman Burn. Seven years ago, this wildfire consumed 138000 acres over 3 weeks, the worst in Colorado history. It was started by a forest service employee who claimed they caused the blaze by burning a letter. Signs of the fire remain, and extensive remediation efforts are ongoing, as erosion threatens watersheds that are crucial for Denver.
There are several variations on the loop. I hiked clockwise: Hankins Pass, Lake Park, Brookside McCurdy, Wigwam, and Goose Creek Trails. Having now hiked in both directions, counterclockwise seems to introduce elevation at a more, ahem, forgiving rate. My plan was to complete the trip in an overnight. I experienced some embarassing navigational circumstances, however, that resulted in a second night out. Given my extra food, the only harm done was to my pride. Conditions were excellent: nights around freezing, no precipitation until the last few hours of the trip (it started hail and lighting as I got to the car!), and days in the 60s (?), moderate sun, with plenty of wind in the higher elevations.
The Hankins Pass Trail heads west up Hankins Gulch along an eminently pleasant stream. Stands of pine and aspen untouched by the fire are interspersed by areas in the early stages of recovery. One benefit, if you can call it that, is that some pretty cool rock formations are exposed.
From Hankins Pass, the Lake Park Trail takes you north through, of all places, Lake Park. The park:
Here is a shot above the park from the previous trip in June 2007. Soon after it was taken, a violent hail, rain, and lightning storm descended on us.
The Lake Park Trail tops out at about 11800', and on this ascent is where I encountered the only significant snow accumulation on the trip. You can see some hint of snow in the above picture. Lots of snowbanks and postholing, which I finally managed to escape by heading west over the ridge, and then following a transect NW to meet up with the McCurdy Trail.
The intersection of the McCurdy and Brookside McCurdy Trails in, yes, McCurdy Park, is down at about 10700', but this is only to prepare you for an ascent that will top out at 11900' near Bison Peak, 12431' (28th highest peak in CO wilderness areas), the high point of the loop.
This is a view towards the summit of McCurdy Mountain. I'm guessing humility was not one of this McCurdy guy's strongpoints.
The Brookside McCurdy Trail, while not exactly beside a brook, is a wonderful, stark high alpine stretch.
A view of Pikes Peak, 14110', to the southeast.
A comparison with another shot from the previous trip. What a difference a month makes...
I'll continue with more of the older pictures. This trip over Bison Peak was extremely windy, and I was in much more of a hurry this time around...
A new shot for comparison...
Last trip, we enjoyed a calm sunset on the summit.
From Bison Pass, the Brookside McCurdy Trail heads north towards Lost Park Campground. It follows the marshy areas in the center of this picture. The Kenosha, and beyond, Platte River ranges are in the background.
What a nice section along Indian Creek, looking north.
I camped a little ways past Lost Park Campground along the Wigwam Trail. First day about 18 miles. A view in morning from near my campsite.
The Wigwam Trail heads in an easterly direction from about 9900' at Lost Park Campground, down to around 9700' through the beautiful Lost Park.
Perhaps this was an omen of things to come...
A herd of elk in Lost Park.
This is where things get...embarassing. I should have had about 17 miles to go before returning to Goose Creek TH. Here is where that omen comes in. Much more than 17 miles were in store. I was walking along, enjoying the morning, stirred by morning coffee, proud of my good foot health, and feeling like the remaining 17 miles were going to be a breeze. In my bliss, I headed south along a trail, marked but unnamed on the map and very distinct on the landscape, only about halfway between my campsite and the southerly trail I was SUPPOSED to take. Did this new trail look familiar? Of course not. But on the previous trip, I was struggling with blisteritis, and thought it might have blurred my memory. What about the map? Well, there were just enough superficial resemblances to get me into trouble. I should have noticed all the many discrepancies, of course, obvious to anyone who can tell a highway from a countour line, but I was blissful. The morning was young and full of promise. The scenery was intoxicating.
So, off I went towards McCurdy Creek. This is what I look like with no idea I am not where I am supposed to be.
I did see many beautiful sights.
It did not take me long to realize something was wrong. My fundamental mistake, however, was failing to realize my originary mistake- the one that set all this in motion. What I thought were mistakes were actually merely the symptoms of my primary error (leaving the Wigwam Trail too early). So, as long as I didn't realize the nature of my problem, no solution was possible. At one point, I was able to visually verify where I had left the Wigwam Trail and get my bearing from that point- BUT the point that was supposed to be my certain referent was, unbeknownest to me, not the point I thought it was. So I scrambled, I bushwacked, I struggled to make sense of the map (of course there was a reason nothing quite matched)- I even found well traveled trails with cairns, tree maintenance, the works.
I once read a quote on navigation at sea, something to the effect of, when the chart and reality don't match, follow reality...yea. Well, I spent an unplanned night on the banks of McCurdy Creek (did this guy have to name EVERYTHING?!), in a beautiful clearing with a nice bench and firepit, and then returned to the Wigwam Trail the next morning once the mystery was solved. Fortunately, I had an extra day of food as a precaution, so I was never in any discomfort, water was plentiful, etc. However, if I had been injured or worse, prospects of rescue would have been dimished by the fact that I was so far off route.
So, after two nights out instead of one, I finished my trip with a severly bruised ego. In some sense, I suppose I should be glad I learned valuable lessons about operating alone in the wilderness under somewhat forgiving circumstances. I certainly improved my navigation skills by leaps and bounds, even as my situation was a result of faulty navigation. Anyhow, perhaps telling the story will help someone else avoid a similar situation someday.
The rest of the loop really is marvelous, but picture taking fell low on my list of priorities. Here is a comparison of a set of beaver ponds along Wigwam Creek about a month apart, May 2009 and June 2007. In fact, almost to the day!
Once I get a chance, I will post some shots of the Goose Creek Trail from my previous trip. Truly one of the great Colorado hikes, and best to do it when you aren't rushing to beat nightfall and avoid the weather. Here is a shot of the peaks as I was leaving- raining on me, snowing on them.
Oh, and if you get a chance, do check out McCurdy Creek...as long as you are sure it is indeed McCurdy Creek. Nice place that is.
Thanks for reading.